When Toejam & Earl came out in 1991 it was exactly the sort of game that made me love the Sega Genesis. I mean, I had never seen a game like this on the NES. It was just so... weird. There were these funky little aliens who were into rap music and they went around looking for parts of their ship while encountering even weirder earthlings. It was pretty wild.
I didn't know what a roguelike was back then. I'm not even exactly sure when the word came into use. I think many years later. But it's interesting that my first exposure to roguelikes would be two games on the Genesis of all platforms: this one of course, and also Fatal Labyrinth, which I also enjoyed.
At any rate the roguelike thing is interesting in a 16-bit console game. Here, you walk around as either Toejam or Earl and explore isometric levels. Some levels contain ship parts and some don't. You'll need to find all the parts and get to the elevator to the next level. Easier said than done of course.
The real draw to this game is the personality. The music is great - and though it has a hip hop attitude, it's actually way more reminiscent of 70's jazz fusion. I swear to goodness one of the motifs is jacked straight from a Weather Report song. But throw on some of the fusion era work of Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis and you'll have the right idea.
The game is also pretty funny. There's all the weirdo earth people like a renaissance faire wizard, a stampede of paparazzi, cupid who shoots arrows that make you walk with inverted controls, a gigantic hamster in a ball, and so on and so on. You can get weapons like tomatoes. You can over-eat and burp. "Toejam is a wiener." The game is bursting with personality. In two player mode you can even high-five.
Unfortunately, actually playing the game in 2019 feels like a bit of a drag to me. It feels, I don't know... boring? I had fired it up while trying to decide if I should pre-order the new game. And I still might, because I like to support physical Sega releases. And also because maybe the quality of life has improved after all these years.
The original game just feels so slow to me. I found myself constantly using the fast-forward feature on the Sega Genesis Classics in-game emulator and that's really not a fun way to play through a game. In fairness, the VHS-style look of it is pretty charming though. The game is also pretty unforgiving. You take a lot of damage easily, and it's game over before not too long. In the modern day roguelike (Spelunky, Dead Cells) this would be motivation for me to trudge ahead. But in Toejam & Earl I'm finding that I just want to stop playing.